Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

On the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”, one of the main characters, Barney Stinson (played by multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris), loves to use dramatic pause. One of his catchphrases is “Legen... wait for it... dary! Legendary!” He likes to add “wait for it” in the middle of sentences and words for comedic effect quite a bit.  (For the record, it usually works. He’s a pretty funny character and it’s a pretty funny catchphrase)

So this week I had Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” in my head.  And as I tried to get a word in edgewise in my home (All of us are chatterboxes in my house. Even the baby!) I thought about how much we hate silence.

We hate silence in my house. It’s why we talk so much.

I know I’m not the only one who hates silence. It’s why so many people have their TV or radio or iPod on so much of the time. It’s why our students pop on their headphones whenever they get a chance. It’s why we answer the questions we ask to our students.

We hate silence.

As Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part”. So. True.

Do you know that feeling in class? The fear of silence? I must have acted on that dislike of silence every day of my teaching career. I still do it. It goes like this:

I ask a question. I look around. When no one raises a hand in one or two seconds, I answer my own question. Sometimes I chastise the class (“Really guys? Nobody knows this one?”). Sometimes I don’t. But either way, I just answered my own darn question.

It is best demonstrated by actor Ben Stein as the teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller in the forever-immortalized words “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?”

As he teaches Economics class he pauses long enough to ask “anyone? anyone?” before answering his own questions:

“In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the ... Anyone? Anyone? ... the Great Depression, passed the ... Anyone? Anyone? ... The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered? ... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work ? ... Anyone? Anyone know the effects? it did not work and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? ... Anyone? Anyone? ... Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something d-o-o economics. Voodoo economics.

(If you need to see it to laugh today, check it at  ... Anyone? Anyone? ... ) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxPVyieptwA  

Do kids learn much with the teacher-asks-and-answers-herself method? I doubt it.

According to research, in most classrooms students are given less than one second to answer a question posed by a teacher.

Less. Than. One. Second.

We know learning has to be engaging. We know that kids need to manipulate content in order to really learn it. We know that answering our own questions just shows how smart WE are. (Duh. We’re the adults with degrees and teaching jobs. We’re a pretty smart bunch)

But it doesn’t do much for kids.

I’m going to suggest something LEGEN -- wait for it -- DARY!

Wait time.

(No, don’t wait again! That’s the THING. The waiting. The suggestion is about WAITING!)

Yes, we all know about wait time. It says that when you pose a question to your class that you WAIT for them to answer. Research from the 1980s (maybe in response to Bueller? Bueller?) has been confirmed again and again over the past few decades. Increased wait time does huge things for student learning. When you increase wait time from one to FIVE seconds you will see the following benefits:

  1. The length of student responses increases 400 to 800 percent.
  2. The number of unsolicited but appropriate responses increases.
  3. Failure to respond decreases.
  4. Student confidence increases.
  5. Students ask more questions.
  6. Student achievement increases significantly.
(Seriously? Only five seconds? It takes me longer to make my legen-waitforit-dary jokes again!)

It’s hard to do. I get that. But it’s totally worth it.

This week, try to increase your wait time. Record yourself (audio or video will work) or have a colleague come observe and time your wait times. It can be powerful. It can be engaging. It can be legen-waitforit-dary.

 So this week, think of Barney Stinson. Think of Ben Stein’s “Bueller, Bueller”. Think of The Sound of Silence. And think of Tom Petty singing “The waiting is the hardest part”

And increase your wait time.

As always, I love to hear how it goes! Drop me a line!  

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